Reflection: the art of noticing

“What do you notice?”

A small, but powerful question, when you involve people in some self-reflection.

We are putting together a workshop for mental health service providers at the end of the month and part of the process during the workshop is to encourage and support participants to ‘stay with their hearts’ and not to too quickly seek out solutions to issues raised during the workshop.

It’s tricky to ask people to reflect when they are not always open to, nor experienced in, reflective processes – some are more naturally adept at reflecting than others.

The art of reflection can be viewed as the art of noticing. You can notice things around you by looking, hearing, feeling, tasting, and so on. You can also notice things within: what are you feeling? resisting? holding some tension about? loving? dreaming about?

Andrew LaRowe beautifully explains some of his noticing in his comment on Elizabeth Cottrell’s blog post about noticing:

In all of my years of walking down the beach looking for seashells, I had never found a sharks tooth until the day someone taught me how to look for them. I remember the first one I found after that, and how easy it became to pick them out as I walked along. Within a few months and several trips to the beach, I literally had collected hundreds of sharks teeth. If a person can learn to see sharks teeth in the sand, then I believe we can guide ourselves to notice the many things in life that need not pass by like ships in the night (July 10, 2011).

How do you cultivate this process of noticing? Practice, practice, practice! Nothing is more habit-forming than practicing something regularly.

Paper, pen, postPaper, Pen, Post by margoc.

Throughout this project, I’ve come to rely on our team meetings and phone conversations as a way to stay with the process and its emergent nature, as it keeps me in a ‘noticing mode’. It keeps me connected and open to ideas (or the echo of ideas, that is, before they fully form and come into view). I have also taken up my pen and paper journaling again, which has really added another dimension to my process of reflecting (and ‘staying with the question’ – whatever that has come to mean for me from time to time).

Often there’s a crossover between reflection and feedback. While these two processes are useful together, there’s a need to be careful not to mix them up. Feedback is more about returning information in a situation (think of feedback in a sound system, for example). I explain reflection further on in this post.

There’s also parallels between reflecting and debriefing. Again, you need to be aware of when you are reflecting and when you are debriefing.

I like to think of debriefing as a time to download and outwardly express thoughts, feelings, concerns, experiences. How do you think that went? What did you notice about X’s reaction? It was good you prompted me when…, and so on. There’s an instructive sense to debriefing, as in gaining knowledge and understanding.

Reflecting tends to be more inward: what will I take away from this experience? How will I connect this to future activities? What does this mean for me in the bigger picture? How would I do things differently next time? What did I notice about me? There’s a consequential sense to reflection, as in deepening understandings and follow-on actions.

The debrief unpacks to experience; the reflection connects it to the bigger picture.

And so, here’s Elizabeth Cottrell’s question to finish:

What do YOU notice? What do you think it’s saying about who you are and what you value?


Some further reading:

Jennifer Stanchfield, 2011, Reflective Practice Versus Debriefing, The Inspired Educator Blog.

Joanne Roebuck, 2007, Reflexive practice: to enhance student learning. Journal of Learning Design, 2 (1). pp. 77-91.

Prpic, J. (2005) Managing academic change through reflexive practice: A quest for new views. Research and Development in Higher Education, 28, 399–- 406.


No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: